About the book:
Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision—one lie to cover for her boyfriend—and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.
Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?
When I was a little girl, Dad installed a gumball machine in our house. But instead of just giving me the candy, I had to pay for it by doing chores.
Now I’m seventeen, and Dad hasn’t changed one bit. If I want a new purse, I start saving my allowance. My father made his own way in life and expects the same of me. He loves drilling mantras into my head: I will work hard at everything I do. I will model integrity and compassion. I will lead by example.
I will fully support his Senate reelection campaign.
To be honest, I don’t see him much. Only on parent’s weekend and holidays. His secretary schedules his rare visits to St. Andrew’s, my boarding school, so I know when my parents will be rolling onto campus. I know in advance to yank my plaid uniform skirt down a few inches and pull my sock up over my bluebird ankle tattoo.
I tell Ben not to hang around.
He is here on scholarship, and my mother never hesitates to let me know I can do better. Taylor, why don’t you spend time with Charles Harrington? The governor speaks highly of his nephew.
Mom wants me to date somebody with “proper breeding,” as if I’m a horse or we live in regency England.
But it doesn’t matter what she thinks. I adore the boy who came over to congratulate me after I scored the winning goal against Winchester and then asked me to homecoming.
I love my school in the mountains surrounded by thick green trees and blue skies. I love Card House—the dorm I share with the fourteen other girls on my soccer team—where every night, I sit down to lasagna or beef stew with a black lab named Oscar curled up at my feet.
I won’t lie—this school is tough. It kicks everybody’s ass. I study and study and study. I probably spend more time on homework than sleeping.
But who cares? St. Andrew’s is my favorite place in the world.
After I Fall
Mom hates coffee.
She won’t keep the stuff in the house. She claims it will make my skin sallow and my bones brittle, but I can’t function without a cup every morning. So I stop for a fix on the way to my new school. The windows are rolled down, the cool wind is tangling my hair, and I pretend I’m driving to the beach for a vacation.
I smile at the dream, but my body knows the truth. My fingers are clenched around the steering wheel.
Last week, I was worrying about normal stuff: homework, a soccer game against Hamilton County, college applications, a tough math test. The list went on and on and on.
This week? Everything’s changed.
I park my Buick in the lot of Donut Palace. After everything that’s happened, I’m surprised my parents let me keep the car. Dad wanted to take it away, but Mom defended me, saying, “Edward, she’s a senior! It would embarrass me if Taylor had to walk to school or take the bus.” Mom shuddered at the idea of public transportation, while Dad rolled his eyes.
At least my car probably won’t stick out at my new school. Although other kids at St. Andrew’s drove Porsches and Beemers, Dad bought me a used car that was older than the dinosaurs. With its dark-green paint, it even looked like one. Everyone teased me, calling it the Beastly Buick or the Beast for short. I laughed and shrugged it off because that’s my dad.
Yeah, he’s the senior senator from Tennessee, but he’s all about being true to his roots.
He expected that of me too, and I let him down.
I climb out of the car and open the door to the little café. Intoxicating scents of coffee and cinnamon lace the air. I examine the menu. Dark roast or hazelnut? I normally drink lattes, but it’s going to be a long day, and I need as much help (caffeine) as I can get. I decide on dark roast.
The barista takes my order and fills a paper cup with steaming coffee, then hands it to me. I walk to the sugar station, and as I’m slapping a Splenda packet against my hand, a guy wearing a Santiago’s Landscaping T-shirt walks up and begins pouring skim milk into his cup. I watch him out of the corner of my eye, admiring his buzzed dark hair, easy smile, and lean, muscular body that must spend a lot of time hauling big bags of mulch. He catches me checking him out.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi.” I don’t meet his eyes, because I don’t want to give him the impression I’m interested. I reach for the half and half and start pouring it into my cup, accidentally knocking my plastic lid on the floor.
“Want me to get you a new lid?” the guy asks.
I bend down to pick it up, then wipe it on my jeans. I shake my head. “No need. Five second rule.”
That makes him smile. “I haven’t seen you in here before.”
“I never come in here.” Because I haven’t lived in Franklin in years.
“What’s your name?”
He leans toward me, and I inhale sharply, ignoring his question. I can’t lie to myself. Landscaper Guy is completely my type—well, he would’ve been my type when I was dating. After Ben, I am not anxious to get involved with a guy again.
Love is just not worth the pain.
“I’ve got a little time,” he starts. “Do you want to sit—”
“Gotta go.” I rush out the door, careful not to spill my hot coffee. Tomorrow, I’ll have to pick a different café so I don’t risk running into the cute landscaper.
Maybe I need a mantra. No. More. Boys.
I now understand culture shock: it’s me experiencing Hundred Oaks High for the first time.
A lot of kids go here. At least five hundred. At St. Andrew’s, there were only forty kids in my entire class. We lived on a calm, sprawling, green campus. Walking down the halls of Hundred Oaks feels like last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.
Two guys wearing football jerseys are throwing a ball back and forth. It whizzes by my ear. A suspender-clad male teacher is hanging a poster for the science fair, while a couple is making out against the wall next to the fire alarm. If they move another inch, they’ll set off the sprinklers. At St. Andrew’s, kissing in the hall was an über no-no. We snuck under the staircase or went out into the woods. Ben and I did that all the time.
Thinking of him makes me stop moving. I shut my eyes. Dating Ben was stupid. Going into the woods with him was stupid. Thinking about what happened makes me so mad, I want to rip that newly hung science fair poster off the wall and tear it apart.
A boy shoves past me, slamming my arm with his backpack. That’s what I get for loitering in the middle of the hallway with my eyes closed. He looks me up and down. “You coming to Rutledge Falls this afternoon?”
“Paul Simmons challenged Nolan Chase to a fight. Rutledge Falls. Three o’clock. Don’t tell the cops.”
A fight? Where the hell am I? Westeros?
A girl bumps into my side. “Watch it!” Flashing me a dirty look, she disappears into a classroom with a group of friends, chattering away.
Seeing those girls together reminds me of my best friends, Steph and Madison. Right now, they’re probably gossiping before trig starts. I miss Steph’s cool British accent and Madison’s cheerful laugh.
I take a deep, rattled breath. And then another. I feel trapped, like the time I got locked in my grandpa’s garage and no one found me for an hour and I banged on the windows until my fists turned purple from bruises.
I can’t believe I had to leave my school. My home.
All because I made one stupid decision.
I check my schedule. My first class is calculus 1, the most advanced math course Hundred Oaks offers. Just a week ago, I was taking an advanced calculus quiz at the University of the South. St. Andrew’s is one of the best prep schools in the country, and they offer seniors the opportunity to take courses at the university, which is up the road. Even though I was still in high school, the professors treated me just like a college kid. I was only in the course for two weeks, but still. It was insanely difficult. The truth is, unlike everybody else in my family, I hate math. I have to work at it harder than anything else in my life.
But if I didn’t take college calc, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school. I need to go to a top tier school, because that’s what people in my family do. My father attended Yale, and my sister Jenna is there now. According to Dad, my brother Oliver—Jenna’s twin—is a traitor for going to Princeton, but I think Dad respects him for having the balls to make his own decision.
When Dad called me into his home office last night, he barely looked at me as he pored over my new schedule. The silence was killing me.
“I don’t know how Yale will still consider me if I’m not taking all AP courses,” I said. “Hundred Oaks only offers AP chemistry.”
Dad sighed, took off his glasses, and set down my schedule. “I’m incredibly disappointed in you, Taylor.”
I looked him straight in the eyes. His quiet restraint worried me. I’d never seen him so upset.
But I was upset too. He rarely had time to call me when I was away at school, but he could spare a few minutes to comment on my one screwup? After how hard I’ve always worked?
Over the years, I’ve done hours of homework every night. I had a 4.2 GPA at St. Andrew’s. A 1520 SAT score. I was on track to be valedictorian. I was captain of the soccer team and on the debate team. I did everything I could to show Yale that I worked hard. That I am a unique individual. Because that’s what Yale wants.
But my one misstep has muddied my glowing record.
Dad ended our conversation with a death knell.
“Tee, I gave you all the tools you needed to succeed,” he said. “I’ve paid for your private school education since first grade, and you squandered it by getting kicked out.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, my face burning. “I’m going to keep working hard at Hundred Oaks though.”
“You’re damn right you will.”
My father had me so flustered, I wasn’t thinking straight when I said, “Maybe Yale will still take me because of who I am.”
“You mean because of who I am.” Dad rubbed his eyes. “I’ve always taught you kids the importance of integrity, and the minute you got into trouble, instead of owning it, you called me to bail you out. And now you’re doing it again. Using my name to try to get ahead.”
I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
“I love you more than anything, but you have to take responsibility for what you did. You’ll have to figure college out on your own.”
“What does that mean?” I asked slowly.
“It means I’m not lifting a finger. I won’t be calling the alumni association or the school president to put in a good word for you.”
“But didn’t you do that for Jenna and Oliver?” I blurted.
He put his glasses back on. “You need to own up, Tee.”
So here I am, glancing around the unfamiliar halls of Hundred Oaks. The school is neat and orderly, but it doesn’t look completely clean, like no matter how hard you scrub, it still looks old. At least it’s not juvie.
I step into my math class, which is already filled with kids. I choose an empty seat at a wobbly wooden desk and stare out the window at the sunny, seventy-degree September day. I bet at St. Andrew’s, my world politics teacher is telling my friends, “Gather your books. It’s a beautiful day out. Let’s have class in one of the gardens.”
I check out the problem set on the whiteboard. I could do this level of math years ago…
My former guidance counselor told me that colleges look for trends in our GPA and activities over four years of high school. So that means when colleges see my application, they will see:
I’m taking easier classes;
I’m no longer doing debate;
I’ve lost my soccer captainship this year; and,
I was expelled.
I have never simply given up when calculus got a lot tougher or an opponent ran faster than me on the soccer field. So I refuse to believe my entire future is over because of one mistake.
I just need to figure out how to move forward.